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2018-04-27 / Front Page

Regional startup revolutionizes sport-related concussion prevention

BY R. BROCK PRONKO
Regional Business Analyst


Because of the performance training aspect of the Edge, athletes are continually tested, and trainers can watch for changes in cognitive abilities of athletes over the season, over their high school career and over their college career. 
Photo courtesy of Reflexion Because of the performance training aspect of the Edge, athletes are continually tested, and trainers can watch for changes in cognitive abilities of athletes over the season, over their high school career and over their college career. Photo courtesy of Reflexion Sometimes inventions are the product of happy accidents, such as Alexander Fleming discovering penicillin.

Other inventions are the product of not-so-happy accidents. For Matt Roda, a Penn State graduate and co-founder of a new health IT company, Reflexion, it was a hockey-related concussion in high school that led to the invention of the Reflexion Edge, a 2-by-6-foot foldable touch screen and accompanying software that trains, evaluates and rehabilitates an athlete’s cognitive abilities through a series of 30-second tests.

“I was a winger, and immediately after a puck dropped, I stole it, got around my opponent, skated down the ice, took a shot at the goal and scored, which was great, but then I was hit from behind and fell to the ice, and slid headfirst into the boards at full speed,” said Roda.

“It was pretty ugly, and my coach was worried about a concussion, so he asked me where are you, what year is it and who is president?

“I answered the questions correctly, so he put me back in the game, but then I started getting migraines, and it turned out I had a concussion so severe that I missed nearly two months of school, and I didn’t get to play hockey again until six months later.”

That concussion led Roda and his two high school friends, Matt Campagna and Patrick Walsh, now company co-founders, to begin brainstorming brain injuries.

“We were looking for a way [for trainers] to diagnose concussions ... at the game with a portable device, but we ended up designing a device that could provide value to all the parties in athletics – trainers, coaches, athletes and their parents,” said Roda.

“Athletic trainers use a single baseline model where an athlete will take a performance test at the beginning of a season, and then they compare that to a post-injury test.

“That requires the trainer to guess if the player has had a concussion rather than using objective data to show a falloff in the player’s cognitive abilities, which is why a lot of athletic concussions are missed.”

Because of the performance training aspect of the Edge, athletes are continually tested, and trainers can watch for changes in cognitive abilities of athletes over the season, over their high school career and over their college career.

“It’s the accumulative effect of brain injuries over a lifetime that can lead to the chronic traumatic encephalopathy that people are concerned about today in the NFL, because it’s been linked with diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.”

The Edge measures athletic abilities including complex reaction time, hand-eye coordination, peripheral vision, pattern recognition and memory.

“We quantify these factors and trainers use that data for measuring an athlete’s brain health, but the tests also challenge the athlete’s brains and help them recover from concussions and become better players,” said Roda.

Targets appear on the Edge screen, and the athletes are asked to touch the targets as quickly and as accurately as possible.

“They’re basically playing a Whack a Ball video game, so it’s a fun test to engage young athletes who want to see how good a score than can achieve while we’re gathering cognitive data,” said Roda.

“For example, if the player’s reaction time drops by 400 milliseconds, it could be an indication of brain injury.”

Reflexion is field testing the Edge on athletes from two high schools – the Hill School in Pottstown and Shady Side Academy in Pittsburgh. .

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